June 27, 2008

Revue of Berlin Earns Its Cheers

By David Steinberg Journal Staff Writer

In early May, Popejoy Hall presented "I Love a Piano," a revue of Irving Berlin's songs over six decades, and one drawback was that the hall wasn't the right fit for the show.

The space was too large to present four performers quick- changing through a series of sketches containing a stream of Berlin's beloved and obscure songs.

Because it is acabaret-style show, all of those audience members needed to be seated close to the stage.

That is why the 99-seat N4th Theater is the perfect space for the lively, topical revue "As Thousands Cheer," which, incidentally, showcases the music and lyrics of Berlin ... and the sketches of the playwright Moss Hart.

In this current revue, which runs weekends through July 13, an ensemble of seven Albuquerque singeractors rotate through songs and sketches that relate to events and personalities ripped from newspaper headlines of 1933.

Just because a show was a one-year Broadway hit 75 years ago, don't dismiss it as irrelevant today. On the contrary. And this is why.

That year saw a change in presidents. The unpopular Herbert Hoover was out and Franklin Delano Roosevelt was voted in. There's a satirical nonmusical sketch about Hoover and a thieving wife's bitter farewell.

In 1933, the country was in the depths of the Great Depression. Our present-day economy is doing so poorly that politicians are falling over themselves to avoid saying we're in a recession.

The nation then was fixated with celebrities. In a funny sketch, the famous actors Joan Crawford and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. go out of their way to show how amicable their divorce is -- until it comes to deciding whose name will have prominence in a headline. The pleasantries are a faade.

In another sketch, the filthy rich John D. Rockefeller is celebrating his 94th birthday but he's a penny pincher. He berates his adult son for wanting to give him a building as a birthday gift; real estate is a bad investment.

Racism imbues the song "Suppertime." A black woman laments that her man won't be coming home for dinner. He's not a deadbeat father; he's been lynched.

Several Berlin songs in the revue have endured, namely "Easter Parade" and "Heat Wave," in which a sexy lady is the cause for New York City overheating. Director-choreographer Hal Simons has put together a well-balanced cast -- vocally, dramatically and comedically. The performers are Chris Armijo, Michael Ray Carter (he makes a hilarious pup), Brian Clifton, Jillian Foster, Shirley Roach, Crystal M. Thompson and Erin Warden.

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